A couple of years ago, my district did away with out-of-county field trips because of high gas prices. Then they cut back on field trips even further because they had to align directly with the standards. So this year I've been looking at virtual field trips. No, there isn't a bumpy bus ride or parents coming along as chaperones; but it can still be a lot of fun.
Ideas to Make Virtual Field Trips Fun and Exciting:
Let students bring a brown bag lunch and eat outside
Take lots of pictures just like you would on a real field trip
Have students keep a journal where they write ideas, feelings, and things they learned during your virtual visit.
Link up with another class from the location of your virtual trip. Exchange letters or post cards beforehand. Get your class excited about "visiting" their town.
So where can you go on your virtual field trip? Visit a rain forest or the desert. Check out an amazing zoo or museum. See beaches or mountains or even a volcano. How about watching an orchestra perform or strolling the streets in a historic town? There are so many sites you can visit online. Just project the video or online tour so everyone can see.
Here are some of the best places to find interactive virtual tours and field trips for elementary students:
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
One of the best virtual field trips, in my opinion, is this amazing interactive tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There are so many different exhibits to see that you can easily work this virtual trip into your lesson plans, no matter what science topic you are currently teaching.
On this tour, you can wander through every exhibit on all three floors. You can also go outside and view the gardens. As you work your way through the museum, you can zoom in to read all of the placards and signs. One nice feature is the interactive map that lets you easily jump from one room to another.
There are little camera icons called hotspots that you can click on to see something in greater detail. The best part of the tour is the 360 degree viewing capability. By dragging the screen with your mouse, you can view the entire room - even the floor or ceiling. Another great feature is the ability to visit past exhibits that are no longer on display.
I suggest starting the tour together as a whole group and then letting students have an opportunity to explore the museum themselves on tablets or computers. You could even send them on a scavenger hunt to find certain things or bits of information. Each wing and room of the museum is marked which makes it easy for students to record where something is located.
Visit the National Parks
The National Park Service maintains a fairly large list of parks that you can visit online. Some of them are photo tours and some are virtual video tours. These are great because you can combine social studies (geography) with science (plants and animal life, nature conservancy). Some of the best tours include:
Grand Canyon National Park
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Homestead National Monument of America
Death Valley Explorer video series
To find these, and many more, you'll need to click to expand the section that says "Featured Video and Photo Tours".
Also, be sure to check out the "Kids Activities" section where you can find more classroom activities for elementary aged students. You can see the full list of park tours on the National Park Service website.
One of the most interesting virtual tours is of the International Space Station. Both NASA and the European Space Agency offer tours. NASA's is video based and it's the next best thing to taking your students on a real space exploration. The ESA's tour is a 360 degree walkthrough that lets students get an up-close look at all of the equipment and compartments.
Or take students Behind the Scenes at Johnson Space Center
One of my favorite virtual field trips for grades 4 and up is the interactive Space Innovation Tour. Students can take the tour through Kahoot! either as a whole class activity or individually. There is also a teacher guide and worksheets you can download to go along with it.
This virtual field trip takes about an hour to complete and your students will be engaged the entire time!
Your students can step into the past and experience history with these interesting interactive tours. Some are geared toward specific historical figures or evens and others show what daily life was like during different time periods:
Travel the World
Visiting famous landmarks and wonders of the world doesn't require a trip around the globe. Your students can visit them right from their own desks! Here are some really interesting one:
All About the Taj Mahal (Thanks to Tyler of the Bay Minette Scout Troop 34 for submitting this one)
If your students are into art, a virtual museum tour might be in order. There are quite a few of these available.
Learn About Animals
What kids don't love animals? A great way to learn about animal life is through these virtual tours and field trips. Some of these have live animal cams, so you may have to check several times throughout the day to catch the action.
Dairy Tour 360 (dairy farm tour)
American Dairy Association Virtual Farm Tours (with a live farmer guide!)
WildEarth Kids is one virtual experience that I highly recommend! There are live, guided safari sessions twice daily that you can watch on their website or YouTube channel. You can even email questions to be answered live by their nature guides.
I also really like this Amazon Rainforest Virtual Reality Tour.
Finally, here are some other interesting virtual trips that are just fun!
So now what are you waiting for? Get going on your next field trip!
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